EDITORIAL: For more than a century, in both New Zealand and Australia, Anzac Day has evolved according to the politics of the times. It has been both a patriotic event and a magnet for anti-war protest. Over the last two decades, on both sides of the Tasman, there has been a new appreciation of the day and its potential meanings by those too young to have ever been touched by conflict.
In 2019, it has changed again, in ways no one could have predicted.
Within days of the Christchurch mosque attacks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that New Zealand tourists who went to Gallipoli with bad intentions would be sent home in coffins like their grandfathers had been. New Zealand would pay, he said, for killing “50 of our siblings”.
New Zealanders in Gallipoli have been told to exercise increased caution, advice which has not changed since terror attacks in Turkey in 2016 and 2017.
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The warnings are a reminder that while Anzac Day’s context may change for us, we rarely think of the political environment the war was fought in and the shifting politics of the middle east. Gallipoli to us is a picturesque location for remembrance, but how often do we consider the other side?
Kate Gilmore, the United Nations’ deputy high commissioner for human rights who is currently in New Zealand, has talked of the Christchurch mosque attacks as an echo of the September 11, 2001 atrocity that led to a normalisation of anti-Muslim racism in the west and the disastrous war on terror. The attacks are a local aspect of a bigger picture in a world rapidly globalised by the internet.
That means that Anzac Day could now mark more than just New Zealand and Australia’s tragic entry into World War I. It has to be able to recognise the dead on both sides and the collateral damage from wars and terror attacks since. A historical commemoration can become topical again.
Efforts to include a Muslim prayer in an Anzac Day service at Titahi Bay, north of Wellington, showed how this topicality might work. It was disappointing that an inclusive gesture was cancelled due to security concerns.
Increased security and the cancellation of many dawn services will be another reminder that in 2019, the world’s wars and the ideologies they produce have come back to haunt us in remote New Zealand.
Two-thirds of Auckland’s Anzac Day services, and a service in Christchurch, have been cancelled after consultations with the police. Despite no specific risk to public safety, New Zealand’s terror threat remains high. That seems entirely sensible, just as there was a similarly enhanced police presence after terror threats in Australia.
But in 2015, Australians turned out in record numbers only a week after five men were arrested in counter-terrorism raids. Showing up rather than staying home was promoted as a patriotic duty.
It remains to be seen whether New Zealanders will stay away from Anzac Day in 2019 or turn up in greater numbers to express a similar unwillingness to be intimidated by terrorism’s hateful ideologies. But if they do attend, it would be nice to imagine that they will be thinking about more than the thousands of Australians and New Zealanders who died over a century ago.
Instead, they might also turn their minds to the many who have been killed in the decades since, sometimes very recently and very close to home.